In a strange way, we have Alex Van Halen to thank for making his younger brother, Eddie, pick up guitar in the first place. Born May 8, 1953 in Amsterdam, Netherlands, the Van Halen's grew up in the nearby town of Nijmegen. Both Alex and Eddie (who is less than a year younger than Alex) were given strict classical piano lessons at an early age, which resulted in an early appreciation of music -- also inherited from their father, a clarinet player. When Alex was nine, he and his family relocated to California, and soon after, was given a guitar, while Eddie received a drum kit. But (as the famous story goes), when Eddie was out slinging newspapers to pay off the drums, Alex was beating away on them -- so much so, that he soon surpassed Eddie in terms of playing. As a bit of revenge, Eddie took over Alex's guitar, resulting in the brothers swapping instruments. The Van Halen's soon began playing in local bands (influenced by the hard rock outfits of the day, Led Zeppelin, Cream, etc.), one such group being Mammoth.
With Eddie also doubling on lead vocals, it was decided that the guitarist should focus solely on his instrument, so a flamboyant chap who lent the Van Halen brothers his P.A., David Lee Roth, was enlisted as the front man, followed by the arrival of bassist Michael Anthony. Soon after changing their name to Van Halen, the group became the toast of the Sunset Strip, eventually landing a recording contract with Warner Bros. in 1977. While it was Alex's brother who gained the majority of the accolades after the quartet's classic debut, Van Halen, was issued a year later, Alex's drum solo soon became a highlight of ensuing tours (especially when they became an arena headliner, and he'd use one of the largest drum kits in all of rock). A string of superb releases followed -- 1979's Van Halen II, 1980's Women and Children First, 1981's Fair Warning, 1982's Diver Down, and 1984's 1984 -- which resulted in Van Halen becoming one of the world's biggest rock acts.
But behind the scenes, trouble was brewing. Roth abruptly left the band in 1985, resulting in Alex and the others scrambling to find a suitable replacement. Sammy Hagar got the nod, and what followed was a stream of further hit albums, 1986's 5150, 1988's OU812, 1991's For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, and 1995's Balance, as the group remained an arena headliner. Come 1996, rumors circulated that Hagar was out and Roth was back in, and the anticipation only grew when a pair of new tracks with Roth appeared on 1996's Best of Van Halen: Vol. 1. As it turned out though, neither Hagar nor Roth were in the group, resulting in the head scratching decision to enlist former Extreme singer Gary Cherone into the band. After one dreadful album, 1998's Van Halen III, Cherone was booted from the band. Since the supporting tour wrapped up, little has been heard from Alex and company. ~ Greg Prato, Rovi